In a sermon clip, Pastor Matt Chandler makes this wonderful observation, “I want to be straight; I love you enough to be straight. YOU’RE NOT DAVID! Your trouble in life is not Goliath.” Chandler was pointing out, accurately, that the Bible is not about us, it is about God’s unfolding work of redemption in Jesus Christ. Chandler is responding to reading the Bible in a man-centered way that moralizes OT characters (uses them for moral examples), instead of seeing them point us to Christ. I give a hearty “Amen” to Chandler’s point, it is similar to the point I made in the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible when I wrote the devotion on 1 Samuel 17 (the passage on David and Goliath, page 336).
There has been a wonderful resurgence of Christ-centered exposition in our day. There has been a strong reaction against what is often called moralism. Taking the Bible and using its characters as mere examples of either exemplary or non-exemplary behavior, seems to miss and even misrepresent the Bible’s real message. “Be a good guy, like Joseph, don’t lie like Abraham, be strong like Sampson, be a good shot like David, be a good boat-builder like Noah, don’t drink too much like Noah….” rings hollow to the Bible reader who knows the sweeping message of creation, fall, redemption. Moralism takes the Bible and turns the great redemptive stories into mere stories with a moral, a kind of “holy” Aesop’s fables. Moralism can reduce the Bible to lessons for life, examples to follow, examples to shun. This is criminal. But let’s face it, in our hunt to uproot moralism from all preaching, we have missed something vital. Maybe we have pulled up wheat along with tares. Maybe in our efforts to protect the way we use the Bible, we have ended up falling off the other side of the horse.
Is it true to say, “You’re not David!”? Well, yes and no. It depends on what “David” Scripture is talking about. Are we David who is a type of Christ in his office as King? No, we are not that David. Are we David the man, the sinner? The David of Psalms 32 and 51? Are we David the justified? The David Paul talks about in Rom. 4? Yes, we are that David. There is an important difference between David the King and David the believer. Am I David the believer? Does David serve as an example to me in repentance? An example in confession? An example of trust, faith, and forgiveness? The Bible sure seems to think so.
If we want to read the Bible like the Apostles, then we dare not remove all exemplary preaching from our preaching. Why? Because the NT does indeed use the OT for moral example. The NT of course does more than that with the OT, but it does not do less.
In 1 Cor. 10 we have a powerful example of the Christo-centricity of the OT, as well as its exemplary use. Paul “Christianizes” the exodus and eating manna and drinking water from the rock in 1 Cor. 10:1-3. Then in a stunning moment of Christo-centricity he proclaims the Rock which followed them was Christ (1 Cor. 10:4). Exegetical details and application aside, this is a profound statement. The implications of this declaration are tremendous. Christocentric to the highest degree! But then Paul makes application by saying that despite these remarkable privileges, God was not pleased with most of them (10:5). Paul then states that these things happened to them as examples (tupos) for us (10:6a). Then Paul gives us a list of examples that we should not follow (10:6b-10). Paul then reiterates the point again, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (11). Christocentric and exemplary use in the same passage.
Paul is Christocentric in his interpretation of the OT. Paul is also exemplary in his application of the OT.
Time would fail me if we were to go to Heb. 11. Hebrews 11 is an OT collage of the heroes of faith. Yes, heroes. It is indeed gloriously true that they are the cloud of witnesses who testify of faith in Christ (12:1-2), but their faith was also exemplary in its various nuances. Compare the various heroes and the fruit that came from their faith. Look at some of the non-hero heroes and marvel that something in their life of faith was found exemplary and worthy of imitation.
So am I David? No and yes. David as King, who rules and defeats the enemy, points us to the greater Son of David. That’s not me. But David also had a nature like ours. David as a believer knew what it was to sin, to be afraid, to trust God, to be sinfully self-confident. That’s me. Is it really OK to read the Bible like this?
Consider the way the NT speaks of Elijah. Elijah as a Prophet points us to Christ, the great Prophet of God and God’s final prophetic Word (Heb. 1:2). But in James 5 we have an interesting, non-Christocentric use of Elijah. In the context of prayer, James appeals to Elijah on the basis that he was a man “with a nature like ours” (Jas. 5:17). Elijah is used not in his great prophetic role, but as a believer. Elijah the believer, who prayed, is an example to Christians who should be bold in prayer.
I am not suggesting that we let the pendulum swing back and ignore how the OT points us to Christ. I am not advocating that we revert to the “killer bes” (see Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching), “be like David! Well, except when he committed adultery. Be like Sampson! Well, except when he was lustful and vengeful.” No, nothing of the sort! I am advocating Christ-centered preaching because that’s how the New understands the Old. But I am also urging us to use the Old in all the ways the New uses the Old, which means there is place for exemplary preaching, which is moored to the great redemptive themes. We should never preach the moral examples outside the context of redemptive grace. But within the context of the Gospel, we should preach OT examples, after all, they all had like natures as ours, even David.